3 Things I Learned from Falling Out of the Boat

Updated: Nov 30, 2017

I love white water rafting. I’ve never had any near-death experiences doing it and I’m sure this contributes greatly to me level of enjoyment.

The rafting companies have, of course, figured out how to maximize the experience… or uhmm, profits… by coordinating with photographers who can capture your adventure at what is usually the most intense moment. This is how I came to have a sequence of photos that will forever be some of my favorite vacation pictures.

They were taken on the Rio Grande at a place aptly known as Souse Hole Rapid, a Class IV rapid during high water. True to its name, we got soused! But what makes the pictures so much fun is the still frame photos capturing a sequence of events and our genuine in-the-moment reactions. My husband was in the rear of the raft. Our two kids and myself rode toward the front. And as we hit this rough patch of water you can see the excitement on our faces, the thrill growing as we rode over the churning waters. But what only the camera was noticing was that my husband had come loose, and with each subsequent snapshot he fell farther over the side until the picture when he was no longer there. It wasn’t until the next frame that the rest of us even realized he had been in danger and was no longer with us.

I learned three things that day as we hauled my dripping husband back into the boat:

  1. We tend to ride through life like that too. Focused on what we are doing, life is good and we’re having fun. Or we are focused on how we are riding out the rough spots, too busy trying to keep ourselves from falling out of the boat. We fail to notice that a friend has lost his mooring, that he is gradually slipping over board. I don’t know too many people who won’t rush to lift that friend back into the boat once they see he is overboard, but what if that friend had let them know the moment he had started to feel himself coming loose? I’d like to believe that I would immediately go to his aid. It is so much easier to keep someone in the boat than it is to lift them, soaking wet, up out of the swift current. But what if I’m the one who is coming loose, losing my hold? Will I call out for help, or just struggle on my own until I go under? Sadly, I know the answer, and I didn’t call out for help until I was fully out of the boat and under the water. The time to let someone know that I am losing my hold is while I’m still in the boat.

  2. One of the things they teach you at the start of the trip is that if you fall out of the boat, hold up your oar so that those in the boat will have something to grab onto and pull you back to them. Sometimes falling out of the boat happens so fast we don’t even know we’re falling until we hit the water. There was no chance to call for help. That’s how it was when my husband went over, but he immediately help up his oar—in fact for a second that’s all we saw, an oar sticking up out of the water. When I do fall overboard, I need to hold up my oar.

  3. The reason my husband held up his oar was because he knew it was time to get help. But more importantly, he held it up because he trusted the people in the boat to pull him back in. He knew that in his boat were people he could count on to rescue him. Maybe the most important thing I learned is to fill my boat with people who will grab my oar.

I also learned that getting splashed with snow melt will take your breath away and that raft guides tend to be on the unique side, but that’s a story for another time.

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